All throughout my life, I have had the most insatiable love for animals. Not all animals – but most. When I was just a baby, my parents found us a beautiful heins57. He adored my sister and my sister adored him. He didn’t really want to have anything to do with me. I loved him just the same. When I was 6 years old, on Halloween night, our boy was stolen out of our backyard. It was hunting season, he was a hunting dog. We were devastated. From that day forward, the pleading began. I wanted a dog more than anything else on this Earth.
My mother would tease me. She would say on the days leading up to my birthday or to Christmas, “This year, you’re going to get a BIIIIIGGGG box. It’s going to have holes in it. If you listen very carefully, you’ll hear, ‘woof. woof.'” Birthdays would come and go. Christmas would come and go. I would not ever get a dog.
Finally one year, they gave me a chance to prove my responsibility. They got me a hamster. It wasn’t the same, but, I LOVE animals; this was my chance to prove myself to them. If I was worthy, I could get a dog! My mother explained that teddy bear hamsters have an average lifespan of three years. If I could just keep this hamster alive for three years, they would get me a dog. What I didn’t know was that the hamster was already three years old. My father worked for the school board and Hammy was a class pet. The teacher didn’t want to have to explain where the hamster went when he finally croaked (likely that same school year). This was my mother’s way of saying I killed the hamster and that I wasn’t responsible enough to get a dog.
The joke was on her though. Hammy lived another SIX years! I mean, this hamster should’ve been in the GUINNEA book of world records. (See what I did there? #punlife). Hammy lived a long happy geriatric life. Playing in the grass in the summer and running around the house in his ball during the winter. He escaped his cage a few times. He survived nearly being swallowed by my neighbour’s golden retriever. Rudy spit Hammy right back out and Hammy was just fine. When Hammy died, it was bittersweet. I loved my little furry friend. His death was one of the first I had ever experienced (except the fish… they jumped out of the tank all the time). Hammy was special though. I made the family dress in black. We lit tealight candles and lined the back stoop with them on each step. We dug a tiny little grave and put little stones all around it. We picked some flowers. We said a few prayers and I made everyone say a few words about Hammy. I cried. A lot. I also remembered that Hammy had lived more than 3 years!
My mother usually kept her word. I was going to get a DOG! Well, when I talked to her about it… she somehow made it seem like it would be disrespectful to Hammy to just replace him right away with another pet. So, I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. My mom continued with the big box with holes jokes. Then my dad brought home a second hamster. Bam-Bam. Bam-Bam was nuts. He was a biter. We would put him in Hammy’s beloved ball and he would run into walls, back up and then run straight back into that same wall. He aimed for the stairs going down. He climbed to the top of his cage and then jumped… and then he would do it again. All would hear from his little cage was, “squeek squeek squeek…. *BAM* squeek squeek squeek…. *BAM*” That was why we named him Bam-Bam. I loved him. He was a crazy little dude. He wasn’t a dog though.
At this point I really was getting old enough to take at least partial responsibility for a dog. I got little jobs walking my neighbour’s dogs. I worked really hard in school to get good grades. Everytime we walked by a pet store, I would ask to go in and see the dogs. Every time we past a dog on a walk, I would ask if I could pet him or her. I wrote essays about how I wanted a dog. I wrote letters to my parents explaining why I was going to be a great pet owner. I researched breeds and and showed my parents all the info I had found.
My mom would tell me, “Well, for your birthday, you’re getting a great big box… with tiny holes and if you listen really closely, you will hear, ‘woof. woof.” Then it would be Christmas. Still nothing.
By the time I was in grade 8, I was getting bullied pretty badly. Students at my school found out that there was such thing as a medical suspension. I was pretty much a straight-A student. I had plans to apply for a specialized high school. I needed to maintain a perfect academic record. A suspension would destroy my chances of getting in. I had never been suspended. Ever. Until then. Students in my class told the principal I had a very contagious disease called scabies. This was grounds for a medical suspension. I was called to the office where I was put in isolation and the administration forgot me there. From 9:15 in the morning until after the bell for school to end, I was locked in the vice principals office. I did not have lunch. I did not use the washroom. I sat there with textbooks locked into the VPs office until the after-hours janitor came to clean and found me there. My mom in a panic came to pick me up from school because I had missed the bus.
I came home to a full voice mailbox with other students asking when I was going to die. My e-mail full of letters from students telling me how disgusting I was. Other parents calling to make sure I wasn’t returning to school for the safety of their children. After 3 days and my pediatrician threatening legal action on my school, I was sent back to school. The medical suspension remained on my record, threatening my admission into the high school I had applied to. Suspensions on your record don’t always indicate that it was for medical reasons. At school, students refused to sit beside me, talk to me or even use the same toilet I used. This was a whole other type of isolation. I came home from school crying every day. I woke up dreading going to school. I was hospitalized for anxiety several times. I was diagnosed with depression and with OCD. Meetings with my teachers and principals and parents showed that I was ineligible for a cross-boundary transfer to a new school. Some kids even threatened my life…. that was when I realized I wasn’t scared. I would almost rather die than have to live in this cruel world. I remember very clearly telling my mom that if I didn’t get into the program at the high school I had applied for and if I was not eligible for a cross-boundary transfer, I would not be going to the same high school as my bullies. I would just kill myself.
One day after school, I ran to the dark basement to cry myself to sleep like I usually did. My mom came home late from work with her friend Kelly who had just adopted a little dog named Buddy. My mom calls me upstairs. I refuse. She told me she had someone she wanted me to meet. I told her I didn’t want to meet Buddy. She said it wasn’t Buddy. I wasn’t in the mood for another joke. It was a big box, tiny holes, woof woof. I knew it was Buddy. I could hear Kelly’s voice. Soon, Kelly left. Tiny paw like foot steps remained. Meekly, I crawled out of my dark sanctuary. I asked my mom if we were pet-sitting. I looked over at Buddy. He was all matted, underweight and smelled like feces. She told me that it wasn’t Buddy. Her name was Bella and she was mine. The tears that previously stained my face turned into tears of joy. Even in Bella’s worse for wear state, I scooped her up and kissed her little head and promised to take care of her forever. That was it. I couldn’t kill myself. I had a sweet little life in my hands.
Posters went around my mom’s work. Bella was to be put down for no good reason if someone didn’t take her. She lived a life crated nearly 24/7 bouncing around from home to home after her original owner was diagnosed with PTSD and institutionalized. She never knew love or stability. Kelly saw the posters and thought of me. She convinced my mom to just take a drive out to see her that night. Bella looked into my mom’s eyes and the next thing you know, she was asleep in the back seat of my mom’s car coming home to me.
Bella was a rescue dog. The truth was that she rescued me. She became my best friend. There for me in the worst of times and in the best of times – like getting Sophie (our family’s next doggie), like me getting an acceptance letter into that high school, like the fire we nearly died in together, like my mother dying, like my sister’s wedding. Bella lived somewhere over 20 years before she died of Cushing’s Disease. She taught me strength and resilience. She taught me about second chances and about love. She taught me to live again.
Sophie loved Bella. They were best friends furever. After Bella was put down, I knew I had to give back. Sophie was lonely. The cats weren’t doing it for her. After a lot of thought, I knew just what to do. RESCUE. Bella had rescued me and it was my turn to save a life.
That’s when I started with Freedom Dog Rescue. It’s some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. It brings a smile to my face every day. It gives purpose to my life. It teaches me resilience and trust and love and SO MUCH more. I don’t think I will ever be through with learning just how blessed I am to have rescue dogs in my life.
I guess what I am trying to say is, “I told you so, Mom.”